I am on the edge entering my 6th decade of life—sigh. And I promise you that I do not think of my younger years as, “the good ol’ days,” so that is NOT where I am coming from in this post… but one of the primary motivators for writing the How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk book back in the mid-90’s was the widespread confusion that my single clients were wading through during their “dating” experiences. I say, dating, but only because there is no other word that really captures what singles are doing in their relationships— Meeting up? Hanging out? Hooking up? Swiping right? What is it really these days? Sooo, I want to try to provide some organization to the mess and identify some of the contributors to this mass confusion and then suggest ways to bring some clarity as to how to date when it seems like no one is dating.
1. Rise of individualism.
If you look back in time, you will see that dating (and ultimately, selecting someone to marry) was a family affair. Even though some cultures still practice arranged marriages, for most of you, there are few (if any) family members that are even involved in your choices or relationship experiences.
I’m sure that some of you let out a big, phew—because your family should have been on the Jerry Springer show and their involvement in your relationships would have put you in the looney bin.
But seriously, we have more personal freedom to choose our romantic partners and decide what we want to do in our dating relationships than any generation in history—and this is especially true for you women!
And as much as I like all this freedom, it does come with a price. In other words, with increased freedom comes increased responsibility.
It now ALL falls on your shoulders to know how to read and figure out a partner, build a healthy relationship and chart out a path that will lead to a lasting future. The problem is this: with all of this freedom (or personal power), there has been little to no education, skill development, or resources for you to utilize in your relationship experiences!
2. Loss of dating norms.
SO this is embarrassing but when I was in junior high, I remember being madly in love with this girl and had somehow managed to get a hold of her phone number. Back then, the thing to do was to call and ask if she liked me and if she wanted to meet me at the movies (or have my parents drive us to the movies—yikes!!).
I can remember calling her number a dozen or so times on our home rotary phone, freaking out inside and hanging up as soon as someone answered. Little did I realize that her parents figured the caller was some stalker and called the police, so… by the time I built up the nerve to ask for her, the father was so pissed off he threatened my life and told me never to call again. Not the best way to meet the fam.
But the thing is there was an accepted dating-system … calling and asking a girl out, actually going to her door and knocking, meeting her parents, guys paying, walking her to the door at the end of the date, not much touch until there was a commitment of exclusivity (and even then, slowly paced involvements), and lots of etiquettes… these were just some of the common manners of everyday dating.
You may be happy that you are free from these norms—but one of the benefits is that they did create an understanding of what to expect.
Without dating norms, who knows? Is it a date when you are texted, “Sup? Wanna get together?” Is this friendship? Hanging out? Netflix and chill? Or someone seriously interested in a relationship with you.
3. Undefined commitments.
Things really began changing sometime around the 60’s. Before then, if a boy liked a girl he would ask her to be his girlfriend. If she agreed, then they were courting (a commitment just under engagement).
But in the 70’s, courtship was replaced with “going together” which was an exclusive relationship one step higher in commitment than random dating.
But somewhere around the 90’s, “hanging out” replaced “going together,” and hooking up took over random dating… and with each revision, relationship commitment lowered and sexual involvement accelerated.
4. Accelerated relationships.
Speaking of acceleration, there has been an intriguing switch between the speed of commitment and speed of touch.
Over the last several decades, many never-been-marrieds have been strongly encouraged to slow down in this area of commitment (“don’t get married young;” “avoid a serious commitment until you finish your education, really know yourself, establish your career, enjoy your life—and maybe even see the world”).
I’m not saying anything is wrong with this advice, but the irony is that the speed of touch has accelerated off the charts! So long before any commitment (and often before really knowing, trusting and proving the dependability of a partner), sex has been fully explored.
5. Tech explosion.
The internet enabled the emerging values of diversity to open the borders of dating. Now you can meet and begin an online relationship with potential partners from anywhere in the world—and they can be different from you not only in location, but also in race, culture, background, family values, religion, and about anything else you can think of.
Don’t get me wrong, we need to continue to make even greater strides in our appreciation and equal treatment of our diverse population.
But take a moment and think about how much more involved and complicated it is to figure out how you are compatible when the number of differences between you and a partner multiply exponentially!
And again, how little education, information or even resources on how to successfully navigate through these areas you were provided during your growing up years or even into your twenties.
And let’s add to these changes brought about by the internet and the previously stated social shifts, the entrance of mobile apps that launched online dating into a whole new universe—the here and now!!
Combining partner profiles with GPS tracking created immediate meet-ups that meant that you could connect with someone at any moment, and if you did, you were never sure what that person expected from you because these “dates” were completely undefined.
How to date when dating it seems like no one is dating.
1. Dare to be different.
I think you take the first step to clearing up some of this confusion when you realize that the current relationship practices (dating) need tweaked.
It certainly has NOT always been this way and, as time passes, it will not continue to be. In other words, the unsuccessful ways of doing relationships that are popular today are likely to become disparaged tomorrow.
A healthy dose of skepticism about some of the current trends is not bad… in fact, it can actually motivate you to look deeper and test out the soundness of a trend—maybe, google the long-term effects or the research related to that trend.
Keep your head and heart working together. And use the power of your individualism to refuse to mindlessly follow all of the current norms of dating.
2. Respect commitment.
This point could easily be an entire post. If you look back at the effects of the 50% divorce rate over the last 5 or 6 decades, I believe that a primary outcome was a growing risk-avoidance.
Break-ups are painful—and although this is true for splitting up after living together, or even a failed love, it is particularly true for divorce. The widespread pain of divorce and family fragmentation has fostered a growing anxiety about commitment.
You see, commitment means that you give yourself to another… and that means that you are now vulnerable to getting hurt. So, if you can have love without commitment then maybe you can avoid the heartbreak if something goes wrong (and when you look around, it seems like something always goes wrong).
But reality is this: you cannot truly love without giving of yourself (which is commitment). Inherent in love is risk. And really, the most meaningful gains of loving another result from ways you genuinely give to that partner without any strings attached or safety nets.
Current dating trends are very risk-avoidant; but I suggest that you embrace commitment and find ways to define levels of commitment in your relationships…we are just hanging out and getting to know each other better; we are a couple—exclusive; we are deeply in-love; we are moving toward marriage. If these words do not capture levels of commitment, find ones that do. You will be amazed at how much peace of mind comes from knowing where you stand in a relationship.
3. Develop a dating plan and be a pace-setter.
When there are few to no dating norms, then you must create some of your own.
Ask yourself: What do I really want out of my relationship(s)? Am I making choices that head in that direction? Am I being both consistent and transparent with my true relationship values and priorities? Are my current relationship patterns leading me to my desired end goals?
Use some time-frames to help you think about what you would like to in a developing relationship… like in the first days, weeks, and months.
In my book, How To Avoid Falling In Love With A Jerk, I outline around 100 questions to talk about that will help you to really get to know a partner. Use them to help you identify topics, times and some specific ways to move a conversation in an important direction. You have more individual freedom, opportunity and possibility in your relationships than at any time in history… take advantage of it to make the best for yourself both now and into your future!
Oh and if you want to learn more about the popular and widely used How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk program then hang with us on our Free Live Webinar. Click below to register.